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Monday, 23 May 2016

BBC announce EU Referendum coverage

The BBC have announce that BBC One will screen two special editions of Question Time in the run up to the EU Referendum, putting leading advocates of the case to remain and the case to leave the European Union directly in front of a live audience.

In the first of the two programmes, the Justice Secretary and 'Leave' campaigner Michael Gove will answer questions on the case to leave the EU to a Question Time audience in Nottingham. This programme will broadcast on Wednesday 15 June. Four days later, on Sunday 19 June, the Prime Minister and 'Remain' campaigner David Cameron will take questions on the arguments to retain EU membership. This programme is live from Milton Keynes.

Both of the Question Time episodes will be moderated by David Dimbleby, and both programmes will be screened in the early evening to reach as wide an audience as possible.

The BBC has also announced the make-up of the panel for its first peak time debate – ‘How Should I Vote? The EU Debate’ which takes place in Glasgow this Thursday evening 26/05/16 on BBC One at 20:00.  The programme will be presented by Victoria Derbyshire. The BBC say that the programme is aimed at younger voters, and the audience comprises 18 to 29 year-olds. The audience members will be able to ask panellists questions, and challenge them on the issues that are of particular interest to them ahead of the EU Referendum.

Representing the 'Remain camp will be Alex Salmond, Scottish National Party MP for Gordon and former First Minister of Scotland, and Alan Johnson, Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle, and former Home Secretary. On the 'Leave' side of the argument will be Liam Fox, Conservative MP for North Somerset and former Secretary of State for Defence, and Diane James, UKIP MEP for South East England and their spokesperson on Justice and Home Affairs.

The BBC say viewers can follow all these debates on twitter using #BBCDebate

Monday, 15 February 2016

Lib Dems will block the Tory 'pay to stay'

The Liberal Democrats say their peers will 'protect social housing' by blocking controversial plans in the government’s Housing and Planning Bill. Controversial plans in the Bill, which the Lib Dems say hope to curb include the imposition of starter homes, Pay to Stay, the extension of Right to Buy and the end of lifetime tenancies.

These four are amongst around 100 amendments tabled in the Lords today to the government’s Housing and Planning Bill. The Liberal Democrats have tabled an amendment to strike out Pay to Stay out of the Bill altogether, while the Labour party have put forward amendments which if accepted will water down the policy rather than scrap it altogether. Its not known at this point if Labour will vote for the Lib Dem amendment.

Pay to Stay will see families or individuals with a total income of £40,000 plus a year in London, and £30,000 plus outside the capital, forced to pay the rental market rate. Savills Estate Agents have found that 214,000 households would be hit by the policy across England. 

In London, most of the 27,000 households affected will be unable to afford to rent privately or to buy in the same area. Camden is one of the London boroughs most affected by the change, with more than 2,000 families seeing a sharp increase in bills. The increase of which will go to the Treasury rather than local councils. 

The proposals in the Government's Housing and Planning Bill directly contradict what, Prime Minister, David Cameron said to Inside Housing magazine in 2010: "We support social housing, we will protect it, and we respect our social tenants’ rights."

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Tim Farron said: "The Housing bill is riddled with holes and unfairness. The Government has clearly drafted a Bill without consulting anyone who has lived in or experienced the realities of social housing. Social housing is a lifeline for thousands of people and the Conservatives seem driven by ideological dogma to sell off these homes." 

"The Prime Minister used to be vocal in his support for social housing. His actions show now that he was merely paying lip service." Mr Farron added.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Mrs May 'must think again' on surveillance

Today’s Joint Committee report is yet another reason why the Home Secretary, Theresa May, must think again on her plans for surveillance say the Liberal Democrats.

They say the report joins the chorus of concern already around the draft Investigatory Powers Bill, dubbed by critics as another 'snooper's charter' after the original was blocked by Nick Clegg while he was Deputy Prime Minister. The Lib Dems say that process, of this Bill, so far has meant the Bill is rushed, incomprehensible and vague.

The Liberal Democrats say they are urging the Mrs May to pause and listen to the conclusions and recommendations of the three reports.

Commenting on the report, Liberal Democrat spokesperson on Home Affairs, Alistair Carmichael said: "There is absolutely no one who believes this bill is going in the right direction. This is a major piece of legislation which will govern the powers of the Intelligence and Security services as well as law enforcement. We can’t afford to get it wrong, yet the Home Secretary seems intent on rushing it through as quickly as possible – despite reassurances to the contrary."

Mr Carmichael also threw his weight behind concerns of the joint committee: "The joint committee has added its criticisms to the growing voice of concerned groups who have serious misgivings about the bill. Even the Home Office’s usually loyal ally – the ISC, has published a scathing report on the draft Bill describing it as handicapped from the outset."

In a clear warning to Mrs May that that Liberal Democrats will use their Peers to defeat this Bill if necessary Alistair Carmichael said: "If the draft bill is left in anything like its current form it will have a very rough ride ahead of it through Parliament."

Paul Strasburger, member of the Joint Committee and Liberal Democrat peer echoed Alistair Carmichael's criticism of Mrs May: "Sadly, the Home Office has not learnt the lessons of the Snoopers Charter, which the Lib Dems scuppered during the coalition. Three Parliamentary committees have concluded that the new Bill, like the last one, is vague and confusing and has many other faults. The Government has a lot of work to do to get this important Bill into shape."

Calling on Parliament to throw the Bill out, Lord Strasburger said: "Parliament must not stand for loosely worded legislation. The Home Office has a bad habit of exploiting badly drafted Acts to create highly intrusive powers without bothering to get explicit approval for them or even mentioning them to Parliament. That must never be allowed to happen again."

Hilary Benn: The Internationalist Case for Europe

In a speech by at Chatham House today, Shadow Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn made Labour’s case for the United Kingdom remaining within the European Union.

"Since it was founded almost a century ago Chatham House has born witness to, and at times helped shape, profound changes in our world.

Two world wars, the end of Empire, the creation of the United Nations and of the European Union, the formation of NATO, the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Berlin Wall. An era that has seen the rise of new world powers, alliances, conflicts and threats and the blistering pace of technological change that is revolutionising our economies and shrinking the world. News has never travelled faster.

In as little as four months’ time, the people of our islands will make their choice about Europe. The most important decision we will have taken for at least four decades about our place in the world.

Labour In for Britain, led by Alan Johnson, is already making the case for us to remain part of the European Union by setting out how Britain is better off in because of the jobs, growth, investment, security and influence it brings us, as well as the rights and protections it has given to workers and consumers across the continent.

Today I want to talk about why I believe that Britain’s global influence is strengthened by our membership of the European Union. It promotes interdependence through trade, advances our economic security, works collectively to tackle conflict and other global challenges and helps protect us from crime and terrorism.

Those who are campaigning for Britain to leave, in my view, profoundly misunderstand what will best serve the British national interest.

There is nothing patriotic about diminishing the United Kingdom’s ability to make its voice heard by other nations. Narrow nationalism is not the same as patriotism. And stumbling out of Europe and pulling up the drawbridge would only serve to harm our position and influence in the world.

Nigel Farage seems to believe that we can somehow return to an imaginary golden age. I’ve given it careful thought and I think he’d be happiest going back to 1957 before parking meters, life peerages and the integrated circuit were invented and a time, incidentally, when the British Government was resisting calls for an Empire Trade Conference because it wanted to develop stronger trade relations with the newly-formed European Economic Community.

Now, on trade, it is claimed that we could negotiate our own, better deals with the rest of the world if we left, ignoring the fact that we already have really good trade deals precisely because we are members of the European Union. Trade which opens minds as well as markets.

The EU currently has or is negotiating trade agreements with 90 per cent of Commonwealth countries; so much for the argument that being in the EU prevents us from having better trade relations with the Commonwealth.

The EU is a huge market of over 500 million people. So why on earth would we want to exchange the certainty of the deals we currently have for the uncertainty of the deals that we might not secure?

Then there are the other voices supporting the Leave campaign.

Those who want to see the back of the kind of regulation that protects British workers from a race to the bottom.

And those who think that the answer to the trade question is to be like Norway.

It is said that like them we can have access to the single market without all the other stuff, but what does the experience of Norway tell us?

In order to have that access to the EU single market, Norway has to pay a membership fee – the same incidentally per capita as we do – has to accept two-thirds of EU legislation including free movement, but unlike us has absolutely no say over the rules.

That sounds like a really bad deal to me.

The truth is that the risks of taking any one of these versions of a leap into the unknown would be huge.

The truth is that we cannot turn the clock back.

The world has moved on and so must we. And Britain is always at its greatest when we are a confident and outward-looking trading nation.

Since the 1975 referendum, Britain has been through considerable economic change.

Some people have had a hard time, especially as older industries have declined or vanished altogether. Whole communities that were built up around a single employer, generations of the same family in the same workplace, suddenly found their jobs had gone and with it their sense of identity and pride.

But we know that things would have been worse, not better, if we had been outside the EU.

Almost half our total exports – £200 billion of goods every year – go to Europe precisely because we are part of the single market, and the supply chains and those servicing those exporters’ help create jobs too.

We export all over the world precisely because of those trade agreements Europe has been able to secure with other countries.

Look at the strength of London as a global financial centre, the openness and diversity of our society, our talent for creativity – the UK computer games industry which didn’t even exist 40 years ago now generates £2bn a year in global sales and supports nearly 30,000 jobs – the worldwide reach of the English language; all these things help to make us the fifth biggest economy in the world.

And what’s more, being part of the EU has helped us to deal with some of the consequences of these changes by providing a framework of employment rights that protects workers in every European country.

It was Jacques Delors, the then President of the European Commission, who made that speech about his vision of a social Europe to the Trades Union Congress in 1988 which helped to change the attitude of the Labour and trade union movement towards Europe.

And Europe was as good as its word in bringing us paid holidays, improved maternity and paternity leave, limits on working time and better protection for agency and temporary workers.

It is a really striking example of how, by working together, we can prevent a race to the bottom that globalisation, left unchecked, could bring.

And it is why the voices of Britain’s trade unions and their members will be heard increasingly loudly as the referendum campaign unfolds.

Even the global financial crash which shook people’s faith in the ability of governments, regulators and institutions to protect them and their interests, brought home to us the need for more cooperation with other countries, not less and stronger multilateral institutions, not weaker ones.

For example, if we are going to deal with the problem of big companies that pay very little or no tax, Europe is a very good place to start.

Now, it is not just economic security that our membership of Europe is so important for. It is now also a bedrock of our national and international security.

The European idea has helped to keep the peace on a continent that previously had been at war for centuries. Any one of us who has visited the graveyards of the First and Second World Wars in France, Belgium or elsewhere understands the significance of this achievement.

Row upon row upon row of the flower of two generations of Europeans. The gravestones bearing the name, regiment and age of the fallen – how young they were – or just the poignant inscription “A soldier of the Great War. Known unto God” because no-one else knew whose brother, son, uncle or father lay beneath the immaculately cared for ground.

Europe’s founders were determined to end this history of European slaughter, and out of the ashes of the Second World War emerged the Schumann Declaration, inspired by Jean Monnet and Robert Schumann.

It read: “The contribution which an organised and living Europe can bring to civilisation is indispensable to the maintenance of peaceful relations” and it resolved to make a future war “not merely unthinkable, but materially impossible.”

For me, as for many, this was and remains Europe’s greatest achievement and it is one we should never take for granted.

And it has achieved much more besides. Europe provided a powerful incentive to the former communist states of central and eastern Europe to embrace political pluralism, and in so doing created a hugely powerful alliance built on the values of democracy, respect for human rights, free media, the rule of law and individual freedom.

It has given us a louder voice as we confront threats to international peace and security.

Just look at how Europe was able to coordinate its response to the Russian aggression in Crimea and Ukraine.

The EU suspended cooperation with Russia in several areas and imposed sanctions. It froze assets, banned all imports from Crimea, imposed a ban on major Russian institutions and introduced an arms embargo on Russia.

The financial and economic sanctions are clearly biting on the Russian economy and the ceasefire in Ukraine is, for now, largely holding. The situation remains unstable, however, and the Minsk agreement has yet to be fully implemented. But it is precisely because of Europe’s collective response that we have been able to exert real pressure and have an impact.

And efforts towards the creation of an EU-wide energy union will, over time, weaken Russia’s dominance as an energy supplier in Europe.

Let’s be clear. President Putin would shed no tears if Britain left the European Union. He would see Brexit as a sign of our weakness and of the weakness of European solidarity at the very moment when we need to maintain our collective strength.

Or take the nuclear deal with Iran; a huge European foreign policy success. Led initially by Cathy Ashton, and in the final stages by Federica Mogherini, the EU’s diplomatic leadership was instrumental first of all in paving the way for the deal and then in putting in place the diplomatic effort to make it stick, coupled with the full force of the EU-wide sanctions regime.

The recent lifting of those sanctions, following verification by the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran has taken the required steps, is a testament to the power of collective European diplomacy.

There are other examples too.

The impact of the EU sanctions on Burma, where next month we expect finally to see the peaceful transfer of power from the military to Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy – unthinkable just a few years ago.

And the collective effort to reduce the effects of piracy off the Horn of Africa through Operation Atalanta, run from the EU Naval Force Operational Headquarters at Northwood in Middlesex, which has made a big difference.

These displays of solidarity do, however, remind us just how big has been our collective failure in Syria with the continuing slaughter and the huge flow of refugees. President Assad’s decision to attack his own people has claimed the lives of a quarter of a million Syrians.

It has now been compounded by Russia’s indiscriminate bombing campaign, which Human Rights Watch say includes the use of cluster munitions. Russia’s denials that they are using them would have much greater force had they signed up to the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) - the international treaty that prohibits their use, transfer and stockpiling.

As the recent terrible events in Aleppo show, the Russians are killing Syrian civilians. It is completely unacceptable and it must stop so that the parties can put a ceasefire in place.

What each of these examples teaches us is that we need stronger international cooperation, not weaker. At this moment in this century, it would be an extraordinary folly to turn our back on this vitally important international alliance if we wish to help shape world events.

Last week NATO’s Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, said this:

“Britain is a global player and a strong EU will also make sure that NATO has a strong partner in the European Union when we are facing the same security threats…”

Our national security is served by both our membership of NATO and of the EU. To walk away from our membership and leadership of the EU would be a grave strategic error because Britain’s role in promoting international peace and security around the globe is greatly enhanced by being part of Europe.

And leaving Europe could also put the UK itself at risk. There are voices in Scotland who would use any opportunity arising out of this referendum to have another go at breaking up the United Kingdom. Let us be clear, if that were to happen it would greatly diminish our standing in the world.

Co-operation across Europe is also essential given the terrorist threat we face. The European Arrest Warrant is a really good example of the benefits of cooperation with our European neighbours.

Before it came into existence, those who had committed crimes here could flee elsewhere in Europe and hope that convoluted and lengthy legal processes would prevent them from ever being returned to face justice. One of those eventually convicted of the failed 21 July 2005 attempt to cause explosions in London was returned to the UK from Italy under a European Arrest Warrant.

Only this week, the Director of Europol Rob Wainwright warned that Brexit “…will make Britain’s job harder to fight crime and terrorism because it will not have the same access to very well developed European cooperation mechanisms that it currently has today”.

Underlying all of these questions is the greatest challenge that peoples and countries face at the beginning of the 21st century.

How do we come to terms with, and respond to, the interdependence of human beings that more than anything else defines our world at this moment in history?

We can already see the implications.

Events in what once would have been regarded as a far-off land now reach our television screens or our mobile phones in seconds, and it is not much later that the consequences start to be felt on our shores.

And it does not matter whether human beings moving across the globe are fleeing war or persecution, the effects of climate change – too much water, not enough water – or simply seeking as human beings have done throughout the course of history the chance of a better life, we are going to have to deal with the consequences.

We are 7.2 billion people on this small and fragile planet of ours. By the end of this century we are forecast to be 11 billion.

We only have to look at what has been happening on our continent these past few months to see what that future could bring. The flow of refugees has put the Schengen agreement under enormous strain and has tested Europe’s solidarity to the limit. But imagine what would have happened – what would be happening now on the continent of Europe – if the European Union did not exist.

The fact is that in Europe, as elsewhere in the world, we not only have a moral interest in preventing conflict, stopping dangerous climate change and promoting economic development to overcome poverty in developing countries, but also a practical interest in doing so.

And to succeed in these tasks we have to make the global institutions we have created work to deal with all of these things.

The choice is very simple. Either we seek to do so in cooperation with our neighbours, near and far, through bodies like the European Union and the United Nations, or we will struggle to deal with them separately

So we must choose between the fear that we have somehow lost our identity, our influence and our place in the world because we have chosen to be part of the European Union, and the experience that being in Europe has actually amplified, extended and increased Britain’s voice in the world.

And in so doing it has given us the best means we have of dealing with the problems we face.

In 2005, when the Labour Government was campaigning for debt relief and increased aid in the run-up to the Gleneagles summit, it was the decision of European development ministers to agree commitments on both that helped to move other nations to commit more.

When I led the British delegation to the climate change talks in Bali two years later, I saw what an impact the EU uniting behind a single proposal had and how much stronger that was than all the countries acting separately.

These two examples from my direct experience illustrate precisely why Britain’s voice is strengthened by being part of the European Union and not weakened.

I have changed my view on Europe since 1975. I have been on a journey, not least because Britain has been on a journey too.

We live in a changing world and if you look at the future challenges we face I believe the case for Europe is stronger now than ever.

We have not lost our identity. The fact that we are not a member of the Euro nor part of Schengen shows that we can defend our national interest.

In an increasingly interconnected world the divide between foreign and domestic policy will become ever more blurred and whether it is fighting climate change, reducing poverty, dealing with conflict, water, land, energy or the consequences of migration, they all will require an internationalist outlook.

The story of Britain over the last century is one of a nation at the heart of world affairs. It is the story of a country that has been at its best when we have been outward looking and confident.

In the 20th Century we helped build the institutions that have given us the chance to make progress: the UN, EU, NATO.

In the 21st Century we cannot afford to reduce our influence or isolate ourselves or shut the curtains and close the doors and wish that the rest of the world would go away.

This choice will ultimately be about whether we look to the future and Europe with optimism or not.

I am sure that Britain’s national interest and place in the world is best served by remaining part of the European Union, and I hope you will join us in making this case in the important months that lie ahead."

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Tim Farron launches Lib Dem referendum campaign it's "time to lead, not leave"

In a speech launching the Liberal Democrat campaign to keep the United Kingdom within the European Union today, party leader, Tim Farron said of Mr Cameron's renegotiation that "I've been asked many times to herald David Cameron’s renegotiation with great praise and say it’s going to solve all of our problems, and others want me to blast it by saying what I don’t agree with or that it’s a complete waste of time."

Mr Farron said Tory divisions were the only reason David Cameron had chosen this course of action: "Let’s be frank. We know the only reason he’s doing it is because of his back benchers – but despite all of that, it does prove is that when you need something you have to work together."

Mr Farron emphasised what he sees as the benefits to the United Kingdom and the European Union remaining together, Tim Farron said: "After decades of brutal conflict, European nations came together in cooperation. To this day, neighbours and allies support each other in what remains the world’s most successful project in peace. Together we created the world’s largest free trade area, we delivered peace, and we gave the British people the opportunity to live, work and travel freely. Together we are stronger in the fight against the global problems that don’t stop at borders."

Tim Farron didn't deny that he believes the EU needs reform, pointing out that he thinks: "Europe is not perfect. Westminster is not perfect. But picking up your ball in a sulk and heading home, is not the way to win. We should be a leading voice to make changes. Remaining in a reformed Europe. This is Britain’s time to lead the way."

Like with his party conference speech Mr Farron was most passionate in defence of refugees in the European Union at the moment, Tim Farron in a clear swipe at UKIP said: "Earlier this week we had a taste of how the nastier side of the referendum may go. Using refugees – people who are desperate and fleeing conflict – for political points is disgusting."

Turning his fire onto David Cameron, Tim Farron said: "The Prime Minister has shown himself to be weak, and heartless. And this campaign needs the opposite. This campaign needs strength and compassion. The leave campaign will play nasty, and it seems people on our own side will engage in a nasty race to the bottom on immigration, migration and refugees." In a more reassuring tone to his party supporters "But Liberal Democrats, I will not stand for it." and in a direct appeal to the Prime Minister, Tim Farron said: "David Cameron: there are children in Europe who need our help."

Turning to Labour, whos leader Jeremy Corbyn, who are likely to be infavour of the United Kingdom remaining. Mr Farron recalled when the 'pro-AV' Ed Miliband became Labour leader: "I remember AV. A newly appointed left wing Labour leader refused to fully back the campaign." 

Appealing to Mr Corbyn for support in the remain campaign Tim Farron will say: "Jeremy Corbyn, do not let your own internal party chaos derail such an important vote. I know you may have wanted to leave in the past, but now is the time to step up." Calling for the 3 main, UK, party leaders to campaign together Mr Farron said: "We can all put party interests aside for the good of our country. You, Me and Dave. We all back the campaign, so let’s just get on and do it."

Attaching those who claim its 'patriotism' to support one of the number of leave campaigns Mr Farron said: "And one final thing that I must get off my chest. People who want to leave do not own our flag. Patriots love our country. Nationalists hate their neighbours. It is the British spirit that helped bring everyone together. We must not let people pretend that it is the British spirit that tears people apart."

In conclusion Tim Farron told his party that; "we are a proud nation that stands tall in the world. We are a beacon of hope, freedom, prosperity, ingenuity, creativity. We must remain as a leader on the world stage. This is Britain’s time to lead, not leave."

Who is on the list for PMQs?

MPs on  the order paper for Prime Minister's Questions:

  • Mims Davies - Eastleigh: If he will list his official engagements for Wednesday 10 February?
  • Robert Jenrick - Newark
  • Michelle Donelan - Chippenham 
  • Mrs Louise Ellman - Liverpool, Riverside 
  • Nigel Adams - Selby and Ainsty 
  • Victoria Atkins - Louth and Horncastle 
  • Nic Dakin - Scunthorpe
  • Mike Weir - Angus
  • Joanna Cherry - Edinburgh South West 
  • Iain Stewart - Milton Keynes South 
  • John Nicolson - East Dunbartonshire
  • Clive Efford - Eltham
  • Gareth Thomas - Harrow West
  • Diana Johnson - Kingston-upon-Hull North
  • Stuart Andrew - Pudsey

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will be called for his 6 questions after Mims Davies and Scottish National Party, Westminster, Leader Angus Robertson will be called for his 2 questions after Robert Jenrick. 'Bobbers' from side will be called to ensure even number of questions from Government/Opposition backbenchers

Scottish National Party 

David Cameron has ‘betrayed Britain’s values over the refugee crisis’

An urgent summit to discuss unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who have fled conflict, poverty and persecution will be chaired tomorrow by Leader of the Liberal Democrats Tim Farron. On the eve of the summit Tim Farron has said that the Prime Minister is ‘betraying Britain’s values’ by refusing to take in 3,000 unaccompanied children.

Liberal Democrats along with Labour, the Greens and backbench Tory MPs have been pressing the Government to take the 3,000 orphaned child refugees who have reached European shores. The summit is being held to start the creation of a practical implementation plan with the help of a number of interested parties. Tim has invited a number of MPs who have joined him in supporting this campaign, and hopes that all of those who are serious about making this happen will attend.

Despite the Prime Minister, David Cameron, repeatedly saying it would, the Government has never seriously looked into what taking in 3,000 refugee children would mean in terms of financing, local government and third sector capacity. The Lib Dems say Tim Farron is stepping up to the plate and answering the call of millions of people across the country who think we should be doing more to help refugees in Europe

At least 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees have disappeared after arriving in Europe according to the EU’s criminal intelligence agency Europol. Many are feared to have fallen into the hands of organised trafficking syndicates.

In his strongest attack yet, on the Prime Minister, Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: "During every crisis I can think of Britain has opened its doors and hearts to those in need. We are a beacon of hope and that is something millions of people like myself are proud of. It is what makes me proud to be British. This time the Prime Minister has ignored the pleas of charities and frankly he is betraying Britain’s values by doing so.

He clearly isn't willing to lift a finger to help these desperate children, but I refuse to give up. Tomorrow we start the creation of a plan to show the Prime Minister how Britain can take care of 3,000 unaccompanied children."